Age: 17, Grade: 12
School Name: Trevor Day School, New York, NY
Educator: Pamela Murphy
Category: Personal Essay & Memoir
The Cookie Shop
Being stuck in a room with a heroin junkie trying to steal your money is probably one of the last situations you would ever want to find yourself in. That very thing, among others, became commonplace for me this summer, working at a cookie shop of all places.
My boss was a large Carribean woman, one of the most physically imposing human beings I have come to know, and somebody who I will never forget. Her name was Kafi. Kafi taught me a lot of lessons, and not just about cookies. The first few lessons would involve cookies, “This is not what a clean tray looks like” or: “Metal gets hot in an oven, so don’t forget your oven mitts!” Later she would help me understand what makes each and every one of us human, whether she realized it or not.
I learned about the nature of people through how much they tipped. Usually, those wearing designer clothing, or were much older were scarce to tip. They kept their money close, seeing no reason to drop a few coins in a cup for high school student handing them cookies. The more tip-happy of the patrons were usually those similar in age to me, and parents. I am not sure what it is about parents, maybe they see their children in all young people but they were often the nicest and most generous.
My hours were usually three times a week, from 4pm opening to 2am closing. The cookie shop is located in the Bowery, New York, easily one of the strangest neighborhoods in New York. It is equal parts nightclub as it is opioid recovery clinic, welcoming some of the oddest and most colorful people New York has to offer. Many customers would come in drunk or high after a night out. Some stopping in for a gift for their date, some coming in to wash away their sorrows in sweet, sugary bliss. There are countless reasons for people to want to purchase a cookie, leading to countless different kinds of people entering through those doors.
We often had to send out deliveries, no one wants to have to walk a few blocks for cookies, right? They would use the common food ordering apps, so the same few delivery guys were always around. I got to know one of them in specific. By day he was a delivery guy, by night, an MC Hammer impersonator. He always picked up deliveries wearing suits with oversized shoulders and baggy pants, AKA “Hammer Pants”. Everytime he came in, no matter where I was in the shop, I would just stare at him. I would ask him why he was so dressed up, “I’m not dressed up” he would say. The longer I worked there the closer we got. Sometimes when he came for a pickup towards closing time I could slip him a couple extra cookies. I never learned his name, I never needed to. He would come in and tilt his unnecessarily large, boxed sunglasses down and look to me. “How you doin’ long hair?” I would turn and smile at him, “I’m doin’ good Hammer.”
Working in the Bowery, the occasional junkie walking through the doors was something my boss was well accustomed to. I remember the first time it happened to me. It was only my second day so Kafi was there with me. I remember it was pouring rain, we had few customers that day. I remember a lean man came in, wearing sandals and shorts with a button down shirt. I slowly walked towards the counter with a smile, ready to sell him cookies. Before I could even react, Kafi dashed in front of me and snatched the tip jar off the counter. “Whaddya want?” she yelled at him. He made no effort to respond. He simply stared at her, his lip corners turning up into almost a smile. They stared at each other, both knowing exactly what the junkie wanted. Without saying anything, he simply turned around and walked out of the shop, and disappeared into the downpour. Kafi taught me the ways to spot a junkie, unkempt hair, uneven gait, eyes that look right through you. Once she started leaving me alone to man the shop myself, I learned to snatch the tip jar the moment they came in. But sometimes, when the shop was empty, my sympathy gave in, and I sent them on their way with a cookie in hand. My uncle was once that same man. A man so desperate and lost, they would trade their dignity for a single dollar.
Working in that cookie shop taught me so much more than I had ever imagined. From learning to bake, to learning to mop. Not only that, but it taught me more about the nature of other humans. How sharing a cookie was the best way to say sorry, or one of the best spots for a first date. A perfect treat for anyone, MC Hammer or a junkie. A cookie is more than just dessert, it is a uniter in an odd way. I saw it with my very eyes. A cookie brings joy in a way many other things cannot.